act like a feminist


Bene Viera’s “Calling Yourself a Feminist Isn’t the Same as Being One” has sparked an interesting dialogue at Clutch and on Twitter. The issue of what feminism is and feminism ain’t always elicits fiery responses from those of us who proudly wave the blood-stained F-word banner and others who insist “I’m not a feminist, but …” (I support all the same things that all of you who call yourselves feminists support).

Like Viera, I often use bell hooks’s popular definition for feminism in Feminism is for Everybody to streamline feminism for my undergrad students. I also turn to the Combahee River Collective Statement to place black feminist organizing and activism in the historical context of the civil rights and black power movements. Combahee’s opening lines still resonate with black feminists today:

The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking.

The part of Viera’s piece that seems to concern most readers is her example of feminist misconduct. She writes:

I know readers of CLUTCH hate when Kat Stacks is brought into the equation. We are all so perfect and believe her to be the lowest of the low, undeserving of respect because she doesn’t respect herself. Personally, I disagree. Kat Stacks is not molded to fit our idealistic definition of a woman so she is deserving of the disgust people have for her? Yet Lauryn Hill is revered because she’s a deep soul sister, despite the several children she’s had with a married man.

But any time Kat Stacks is mentioned, women rush at the chance to tear her down. And, again, it’s when I see the degrading, hateful, and ridiculous comments of the feminists that I shake my head.

If we, as women and “feminists,” participate in the degradation of other women, how can we then condemn systematic oppression by men?

If, like me, you are wondering “Who’s Kat Stacks?” check out this link. From what I gather, Kat Stacks is the new “Superhead” and, like her predecessor, has received a fair amount of vitriol from the sistas. To be sure, feminist time can be better spent on something other than the Nicki Minajes or Kat Stacks of the moment, but it seems to me that critiquing Hill’s lifestyle choices is no different than disparaging Kat Stacks. Whether women are sex workers or rappers or soul singers who have unconventional ideas about family, feminism is first and foremost about women’s freedom of choice, right?

There is no one way to act like a feminist but there are many ways to put our feminism into action. How are you acting out your feminism?

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About jennifer williams

Jennifer D. Williams is a writer and professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies. She has published in academic journals and online at Ms.blog, PopMatters, among other sites. Jennifer is currently working on a book that looks at black women's urban literature between the Depression and the civil rights era.

3 responses to “act like a feminist

  1. Anonymous

    “…feminism is first and foremost a…bout women's freedom of choice, right?”

    actually, i don't know if that's correct. i'm not sure if feminism was always first and foremost about women's freedom of choice, (whatever that actually means). i think that's a relatively new concept that has somehow been blanketed and tacked on to feminism without much question of it. i have no idea who kat stacks is (and don't really care), but i have never thought that feminism was about women doing whatever they wanted and to hell with everybody else. i think feminism and being a feminist is more nuanced and complex than that. not really possible to have a fb convo about it, but i've heard that IMHO misguided comment so much that i felt i had to say something. namaste.

  2. I agree with you that freedom of choice with no regard for how one's choices impact others is irresponsible. What I meant, but obviously didn't state clearly, is that it's important for those of us who identify as feminist not to use our definitions to constrain the choices of other women. To mother or not; to work in and/or outside of the home. Those were some fundamentals I was thinking about.

  3. Anonymous

    I think that one of the main pillars of feminism is the notion of choice, but I don't think that feminism is about agreeing with the choices everyone makes. In the same way that freedom of speech does not mean freedom FROM criticism, the choices women should be able to make should not go unquestioned and unchallenged by those who are troubled by them. Where a lot of feminists fail is in the way they question the choices of those who call themselves feminists. These critiques are so often framed by the idea that someone “gets” to decide who is and isn't a feminist. And so more than critical (in the best sense of that word), feminists come off as judgmental. –Tricia

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